Local History as an Editorial Project
A more developed and sophisticated version of local history by formula occurred when publishing firms appointed a locally prominent general editor to supervise the preparation of a city's history, an editor who, in turn, persuaded the most knowledgeable persons on particular aspects of a community life either to provide information or a finished piece of writing. Such publishing ventures were confined to cities or, occasionally, urbanized counties, that is, to areas with the population and range to warrant such an investment on the part of a publisher. For these, like the more simplistic, formulaic county histories of the same period, were basically commercial undertakings, with the objective an assured profit, though the firms involved did not always rely on advanced subscription sales.
Larger, more populated communities had a more complicated past. The simple formulas that served in rural county histories as companion pieces for the paid-for biographical sketches were not appropriate to urban areas, which required more substantive accounts if interested publishers were to give the appearance of dealing historically with the various dimensions of city life. Oscar Lewis, in his assessment of the 1930s, referred to the practice of these publishers "persuading some local man, or judge or a superintendent of schools or state senator, to place his name on the titlepage as author, thus giving it the appearance of a purely local enterprise."(1) Indeed, one of the most active of the publishing firms, S. J. Clarke, established the practice of indicating the location of the firm as being in Chicago and wherever the history was about. But, though local people supervised and wrote these histories, the projects themselves were initiated, financed, planned, and designed by the publishers, not urban antiquarians.
In 1879, Harvard's librarian, Justin Winsor (who as a young man, in 1849, had produced a history of Duxbury, his hometown), worked out a plan with publisher Clarence Jewett of C. F. Jewett and Company and several others whereby the history of Boston would be done by a team of established writers, each of whom, was particularly knowledgeable of the